This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
A week or so ago I got an email advertising a new "paleo" product. I've written several times about various products parasitically riding the "paleo" bandwagon. Most of them suck.
We are about to launch a AMRAP Nutrition Paleo Refuel Bar and would LOVE it if you guys would help us out by being a taste tester and possibly write up a review in your blog regarding your thoughts about the bar. Our bars are completely raw and and in our opinion, the most nutritious and delicious paleo bar available:) The ingredients include the following: almond butter, egg whites, almonds, coconut, honey, sesame seeds, flax seeds cinnamon and sea salt.
I was genuinely curious, but I also have a troll streak and so I responded
Thanks for the offer. I have a few questions. Are the egg whites raw too? Are they sourced from pastured hens?
No reply so far.
Just because I'm not a vegan anymore doesn't mean I don't care about what happens to animals. In fact I care about it even more because I need good animal products for my diet.
In Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, he notes that the egg industry is definitely one of the worse of all the industrialized forms of animal agriculture. Feedlot cattle at least enjoy some of their lives outside, whereas the average factory laying hen will never see the light of day, crammed into a tiny cage. Male chicks are discarded, often ground up while still alive. Animal factory farms also often do not discard waste properly, polluting their local landscapes. I don't like supporting this. I don't think it's a good way to produce animals and I sincerely doubt the finished product is as good as a true free range egg.
Who knows where they get their eggs. Even if they are from truly pastured hens, I would wonder how they keep them fresh in bar format. The form of a product often can determine food sensitivities. I react to powdered milk, but not to fresh milk, for example.
Flax is a hilarious example of what happens when people demonize specific foods. Soy is soooo bad because it has phytoestrogens. Man boobz amirite? Turns out flax seed has even higher levels of phytoestrogens than soy! Also would you like an enormous amount of omega-6 fat? Because you will get them from the almond butter.
Either way, I'm sure this company would say that some people need a bar because people are so busy and would you rather have them eating McDonalds. Luckily there are already plenty of good products on the market. Even if some aren't completely transparent with their sourcing (baby steps, I suppose), they at least are using grass-fed and/or organic animal ingredients. Nearly every locality has a grass-fed jerky company at this point. In NYC I sometimes bought from Kings County Jerky. In the Midwest we have Grassfed Gourmet (and several others). You can get pastured bison Tanka bars at a lot of places. Lara Bars are a decent on the go snack, though carrying a fair amount of sugar and sometimes omega-6. Same goes for delicious Hail Merry pies and macaroons.
But I do think there is definitely room for innovation. There are lots of things I'd love to see in the grocery store for when I'm traveling or busy. There isn't really a good non soy/canola mayo on the market right now for example. What would you like to see at the grocery store?
You know, it's kind of amazing to realize that you can get pretty good craft beer at nearly any convenience store in a city. You can even get it at a random mediocre bar your friend dragged you to for a birthday party or something. It's pretty much everywhere at this point. I wasn't allowed to drink when I was 5, but I hear that twenty years ago it definitely wasn't that way. I've often mused about what it would be like if you could get good grass-fed meat so easily.
But imagine if you went to a good bar and you asked what was on tap and they said "craft beer." You've heard good things about it. You ask what kind and they are like "well, it's artisan and it's certified craft beer." You order a pint and it's really really bitter. You decide to order a Corona next time.
Unfortunately that's kind of where grass-fed meat is now. It's a premium product, people are interested in buying it, but it's stuck in some kind of commodity purgatory. I'm often torn between thinking that it's great that some jerky in the store says "grass-fed" on the label and that there are "grass-fed" burger bars across Chicago, and kind of disappointed in them. Most of the time if you contact the companies that make those products or talk to the burger bar owners, they won't even tell you what farms the animals are from.
This is bad. I recall a conversion I had a few months ago with a guy at the gym. I told him I mainly buy grass-fed meat from local farmers and he said "yeah, I tried that, but it tasted so awful that I don't think I'll buy it again." I asked him where it came from and he had no idea.
Honestly, I've bought some positively awful grass-fed meat. It sucks to spend that kind of money on something that you end up having to drown in spices. Luckily I know that not all meat is the same. "Grass-fed" is a minimum premium standard that has nothing to do with taste quality. Taste is affected by diet, breed, age of animal, and butchering skill, among many other things. Yes, consumers buying these products often need to learn a few basic cooking skills, but that won't save them from meat that's just not very good (a meat tenderizer, added fat, tons of spices can sometimes save mediocre meat).
So the whole commodity attitude damages the product's reputation. I also think it stifles producer innovation (of course there are tons of things doing that, like regulation, this is just one of them). I was drinking some excellent Rockmill beer this weekend and I thought, what if niche meat were more like craft beer? What if people knew of certain producers and knew their product tasted different? What if stores stocked meat from multiple producers and labeled it as such?
I'm happy to say there are already some places in Chicago I know of that treat meat like this. The Butcher and the Burger is one of them. If you have been to the other burger bars in Chicago and didn't like them, definitely try this place. My main complaint is that they don't always get my order right (medium when I said rare) and they use peanut oil in the fryer, but the meat itself is very good and some of it is even from one of the owner's own farms. There are some exceptions on the menu, so I'd stick with the meat from specific farms, such as the Q7 beef, which is very silky and has a good amount of fat, and the La Pryor pork.
The good butcher shops I've been to are also pretty good about this. In NYC you have The Meat Hook and Dickson's Farmstand. In Chicago you have The Butcher & The Larder and Publican Quality Meats. Of course farmer's markets seem like a good option, but few allow consumers to taste before buying, which is an obstacle because why should I buy extremely expensive meat if I don't know what it tastes like? With craft beers, tastings are common. I had Mint Creek Farms lamb at a restaurant before, so that's how I started buying from them. With Meatshare I often worked with farmers new to selling to urban markets and they offered their meat at lower prices or offered tastings in order to gain a foothold. The cool thing about that is I can tell you exactly what their products tasted like. And they all tasted different. The pork from Spring Lake Farm, for example, had a high percentage of hay in the diet, giving the pork a delicious almost-beefy savory flavor. B&Y farms, a producer that later moved on to the farmer's market after working with us, produced Tunis lamb that had these fatty wonderful tails that braised up very nicely. The goat I would buy from Glynwood was the best goat I've ever had, not too fatty and not too lean.*
I've followed Carrie Oliver on Twitter for awhile and she does some events with beef tasting that seem like a promising model. I think we definitely need more of this- more emphasis on meat as a diverse producer-oriented product.
*that's the problem I have with Whole Food's lamb. The NZ stuff is grass-fed, but often is so terribly lean and gamey. The US lamb is usually too fatty and a little flavorless. I like balance.
The new Zico coconut water in plastic bottles (yuck) is from concentrate. I like to occasionally get my potassium fix from coconut water, but I think it's too bad that companies are ruining a nice naturally sweet product. It's a testament to America's demented taste buds that nearly every naturally sweet product like juice or coconut water has to be sweetened even more for mass-market appeal.
Avoid Zico and go for Vita-Coco instead. Or even better, a nice fresh thai coconut.